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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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PART II
CHAPTERS 20 & 21

Part II-the second stage of Pip's expectations-whirls us into a
new atmosphere. In these days before trains, not to mention
cars or planes, people didn't travel far from home; though it's
only five hours away, London would have been like another
planet to a village boy. Pip has always heard of it in such
glowing terms that he's surprised to see how crowded, dirty,
and rundown it is. Dickens, who knew London well, chooses
specific neighborhoods to show us, stinking Smithfield and
morbid Newgate Prison. One more element of Pip's dream-
come-true is a let-down.

In this immense city, Jaggers is an important person. The
coachman who takes Pip to the office is pretty savvy (a 19th-
century version of a New York cabbie), yet even he is in awe
of Jaggers. But Jaggers' office isn't grand; it's a dismal, small
room, full of strange objects-weapons, suspicious boxes, and
two ugly plaster busts-with a greasy spot on the wall evoking a
picture of dirty, cringing clients. Unsavory types huddle in the
courtyard, and Jaggers' name is muttered on all sides, almost
like a charm. When he walks in, he's practically mobbed. His
brief, cautious conversations with the clients are cryptic; we
can only guess what illegal affairs they involve. Jaggers seems
unwilling to touch these people, and, talking to one of them,
Mike, he furiously avoids hearing any incriminating phrase.
But Pip refers to Jaggers as "my guardian"; so we can't ignore
how closely Pip is tied to him. Pip doesn't seem conscious of
the bad association, but it spreads a shadow over how we see
Pip's new station in life.

Wemmick, Jagger's chief clerk, at first seems callous and
cynical, carelessly advising Pip to visit filthy Smithfield,
elbowing Mike during his interrogation, shoving clients out of
his path. He is described as having a dry, wood-like, dinted
face, glittering eyes, and a wide slot of a mouth. He's a jaded
Londoner, making Pip seem like a naive country boy. Yet this
contrast makes Pip look good. When he offers to shake hands
with Wemmick, he shows a friendliness and trust that's often
lost in the big city. But we wonder what could happen to Pip, if
he stays in London.



NOTE: ON DICKENS' STYLE
In the description of Barnard's Inn, we can see the hallmarks of
Dickens' consciously "artistic" style. Note the piled-up
repetitions of "dismal" or "rot," the clutter of sharply-observed
details, and the increasingly fantastic tone. The prose even
falls into iambic pentameter, taking on the rhythms of poetry.

In this dirty, unwelcoming place, Herbert Pocket, Pip's host,
turns out to be a delightful young fellow, talking a mile a
minute, his arms full of food and his face full of laughter. He
too recognizes the grime and mess. At last, after a day of new
experiences, Pip finds a congenial spirit; what's more, he's a
familiar figure from home-none other than the pale young
gentleman Pip fought at Miss Havisham's.

NOTE: THE ROLE OF COINCIDENCE
Many readers object to coincidences like this in Dickens'
novels. Dickens pointed out that things like this constantly
happen in real life. At this point, too, Pip doesn't think meeting
Herbert is a coincidence; anything that links him with Miss
Havisham just confirms his suspicion that she's his patron. But
coincidence does play a large part in this book, tying together
the intricate pattern of subplots. As you read, consider how
these coincidences also fit into Dickens' view of life.

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